The Backstory: An enriching biography of Our Lady Fatima al-Zahra

The-Backstory-An-enriching-biography-of-Our-Lady-Fatima-al-Zahra Mecca Books

The Backstory: An enriching biography of Our Lady Fatima al-Zahra

The team from Mecca Books is excited to bring you this exclusive interview with the Executive Director of Ihya Publishing, Athar Jatoi. In this conversation, we explore the backstory behind the limited first edition printing of the biography of Our Lady Fatima al-Zahra' by Dr. Muhammad Abduh Yamani, now available for the the first time in English.

Mecca Books (MB): In the Publisher's dedication, you said that you first came across this book in 2014. Can you tell me about how that happened and what was the context in which you discovered the author’s work?

Athar Jatoi (AJ): I have always been on the lookout for a good biography of Sayyida Fatima ﵂. One day I was talking to a friend and I told him about my search. He happened to remember a book that was highly recommended by Habib Umar in Tarim, Yemen.

Locating the book was my initial hurdle, as it was not easily obtainable in the United States. After a thorough hunt, I found a copy at an Online Arabic bookshop. The process of acquiring and getting the book in my hands took approximately two months.

The second obstacle I encountered was the language barrier; the book was in Arabic, and there was no available English translation. Although my proficiency in Arabic is very limited, I began to read it. Despite not fully grasping every detail, it became apparent to me that the book offered a fresh perspective. It was exceptionally well-crafted, with numerous illustrations and photographs that provided a fresh lens on the historical backdrop of Sayyida Fatima’s life. This realization made it clear for me the need to translate the book into English.

The final challenge involved connecting with the author. As a publisher, it is crucial to collaborate with authors throughout the publishing process. However, in this instance, the respected author, Dr. Muhammad Abdu Yamani, a notable Saudi scholar and former Saudi Minister of Information, had sadly passed away in 2010. Despite multiple attempts to contact his colleagues and family members for the rights to publish an English version of his book, my efforts proved fruitless. After several tries, it seemed as though I had hit an impasse. Without the necessary permissions, I was at a dead-end.

MB: I guess the obvious question at this juncture is, what happened between that “dead-end” and me holding a copy of this, mind you, stunningly beautiful published book, in my hands?

AJ: Throughout the years, the book remained ever-present on my shelf. As time passed, I became the father of four daughters, and I found myself increasingly drawn to the life of Sayyida Fatima ﵂, the cherished daughter of our beloved Prophet ﷺ. This ignited a compelling drive within me to share her story with a wider audience.

In seeking counsel from scholars and teachers within our community, I discussed my predicament over the years: should I proceed with publication without the author's consent? The overwhelming response was affirmative, citing the potential benefits to our community. They suggested that if a connection with the author's family were to be established in the future, we could then negotiate a mutually agreeable solution. With the aim of honoring the memory of the noble Ahlul Bayt (RA) and deepening our understanding of the Prophet's seerah, Ihya Publishing made the decision to release the first English rendition of Sayyida Fatima’s (AS) biography.

Fortunate to have a remarkable team of scholars, translators, and editors at Ihya Publishing, including Dr. Muhammad Isa Waley and Sidi Khalid Williams, they too were captivated by the book's charm and undertook its translation with great care and skill. As the translation progressed, it became increasingly evident that this book was not only unique but profoundly significant.

MB: As you finally read Sayyida Fatima’s ﵂ biography in English, what were your first impressions of her account and was there anything that surprised you?

AJ: When I was reading it in Arabic I got the sense that this book had a degree of comprehensiveness - that level of detail is something I had never seen before. And the full extent of this became clear when I began to read the English translation. Accounts of Sayyida Fatima’s ﵂ life are sparse when it comes to context and details, there are a lot of gaps in the timelines and it can all seem disjointed.

From the early chapters, this biography provide an in-depth exploration of who Sayyida Fatima is by virtue her noble lineage. The author's portrayal of Sayyida Fatima's Noble Parents is imbued with affection and veneration, offering a comprehensive depiction that rekindled my admiration for our revered Lady Sayyida Fatima. Gaining insight into her forebears allowed me to grasp the intrinsic virtues and personality that characterized Sayyida Fatima. The presentation of her distinguished ancestry serves not only as an ideal introduction to her but also underscores her extraordinary nature. This realization of her exceptional status is a thread that runs through the entire book, enriching the reader's understanding of the profound impact her heritage had on her life's journey.

The biography also conveys the profound affection that the Prophet ﷺ held for Sayyida Fatima ﵂. Delving into the significance of Prophet ﷺ calling her "the mother of her father", the author elucidates the depth of this comparison and the pivotal role she played in his life. It becomes clear how Sayyida Fatima ﵂ was a pillar of resilience and assistance, consistently providing unwavering support to the Prophet ﷺ.

MB: Would you say that the author adds a new dimension to the known hadiths about Sayyida Fatima and her life?

AJ: Yes, for sure. The way the author recounts Sayyida Fatima’s life not only fills the gaps with eriching details and context, but he adds something that we don’t really consider in texts like this - emotion.

The distinctiveness of this biography stems from the author's authoritative grasp of the subject, as he meticulously recounts Sayyida Fatima's ﵂ life, weaving together accounts from a diverse range of sources into a cohesive narrative. What sets this work apart is the contextualization of her story within the auspicious life of the Prophet ﷺ, offering readers not only a portrait of Sayyida Fatima's ﵂ existence but also a glimpse into the blessed Sirah through her experiences and the potential emotional responses she may have had as she witnessed the events of her time.

This approach is crucial because it often happens that in our quest to understand historical events, we concentrate solely on the factual occurrences and direct quotations, overlooking the emotional dynamics that underpin these moments and influence the decisions made. By capturing the emotional landscape, the biography enriches our comprehension of the time of the Prophet ﷺ.

MB: Does this biography offer additional perspectives and insights into the role Sayida Fatima ﵂ played in the Prophet’s ﷺ life?

AJ: I think more than that, it highlights how important her role was as a support for him, like emotional support. Even from a very young age, she would help in her own way. When the Prophet ﷺ was being persecuted and going through hardships in Makkah, she was always by his side and it fostered a very strong love between them. The amount of love the Prophet ﷺ had for Sayida Fatima ﵂ was such that every time she would come to him, or walk into the room, he would stand up, kiss her forehead and make her sit where he was sitting. It wasn’t just love that he had for her, it was also a deep respect.

At the same time, throughout the biography you also understand the kind of sacrifices that being the Prophet’s ﷺ daughter entailed. One of the stories that the author takes a deep-dive into is Fatima's decision to sell her gold necklace and use the proceeds to buy a slave, whom she then set free for the sake of God. This action was a demonstration of Fatima's intelligence, sensitivity, and desire to please her father, Prophet Muhammad. By freeing the slave, Fatima not only showed her compassion and generosity but also her understanding of her father's wishes and her commitment to even letting go of permitted things and to lead by example. There was this balance in how the Prophet ﷺ raised her.

MB: Would you say that, in addition to highlighting the qualities that make Sayyida Fatima ﵂ an exemplary model for Muslim women, her biography is a good book for fathers looking to raise upright Muslim daughters?

AJ: Yes, I would agree with that. Sayyida Fatima is a formidable figure in Muslim scholarship and history and this biography is the first time the story is told from her perspective. And not only is it told from a historical perspective, it is told in a way that transforms our understanding of how she experienced the challenges and events of her time. I believe now, just as I did when I first read the book, that this biography will be indispensable to my daughters in giving them the most noble of women as a role model to learn from and connect with.

As a father, reading Sayyida Fatima's biography is a master class in parenting from our supreme example, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. I found myself taking notes in every chapter, practical examples of relationships and situations and insights on how the Prophet ﷺ handled it. This biography has both given me a new perspective from which to view the Prophet’s seerah, and practical insights that have informed the way that I raise my daughters in accordance with the prophetic tradition.

MB: Mashallah, I think it’s rare when a book has that kind of impact on a personal, and family level. It's is a perfect place to conclude. And I look forward to getting my own copy very soon. When will it be available inshAllah?

AJ: We will recive our first shipment in early May and Mecca Books will be able to start shipping orders out shortly afterwards.

You can order yours here: https://www.meccabooks.com/products/our-lady-faima-al-zahra

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